A Tale of Two Bicycles

According to the Velominati, the correct number of bicycles to own is n+1. However, I’m pretty content with two.

I bought the first bike in 2014. I went in to a Mom-and-Pop-and-Kids bike shop and told them I would be commuting on a bike but I didn’t need anything fancy. They pointed me to the Escape 0 by Giant, which I think was discounted because it was being discontinued. It is a “hybrid” bike aimed at commuters – mountain bike drive train with lots of gears (important for skinny-leg people carrying lots of stuff), an upright posture good for traffic awareness, but narrower tires intended for road use.

I kind of fell for the upsell when I chose that bike, but I have no regrets. And I had a list of other stuff to load up on before I even left the store: cushier seat, floor pump, helmet of course, and on and on. I left a fair chunk of scratch at the bike store, and I’ve paid quite a bit more since, yet conservatively all of that has been paid and then some with gasoline not burned driving to and from work.

To say nothing of the other benefits. Health, happiness, and Yet Another Bike Episode here at MR&HBI.

Over time I’ve added a beefier rack, gone through a few different panniers (the bags that attach to the rack), put fenders on for rainy days (I kind of like the rain), various lights (including Revolights, which were a great idea but never found their market), and on and on. My mantra was, “the weight I take off the bike should come from my gut.” I’ve put a lot of miles on that fine machine; many good hours being out in the world instead of boxed in metal and glass.

When I commuted by bike regularly, I started to recognize some of the others out there. A lot the other riders were decked out in tight-fitting bike gear, riding their fancy bikes. I would measure myself against those riders, pushing a little extra to maybe catch up with the Big Bald Guy at the next light. I could sometimes keep it close with one spandex-wearer, but if another came along, that was it. they would vanish over the horizon with a wink of light.

Most of that, of course, is because I’m a skinny-leg big-belly graybeard, but it turns out the hardware matters as well. Enter the Fezzari.

When the pandemic came down, I had not been riding regularly. Early on I took the disruption of my life as an opportunity to rebuild some good life habits, and the bike was at the center of that. Things were going great, until a mechanical issue during a major supply-chain disruption left me with no bike for a while. Late one night, I thought, “Whit if I buy another bike?” The only bikes available were the really high-end ones, but if I was gong to justify another purchase, it had to fill a different role than my commuter bike anyway.

You know how that turned out. And now here we are.

Wednesday I rode the Giant to work, lugging along a change of clothes, a laptop, shoes, about five pounds of food, and other odds and ends. Even if I could fit all that in a backpack (doubtful), then my back would be a swamp by the time I got to work. No problem on the Giant. It is a stable ride, comfortable, with an upright posture and wide handlebars for easy control. Thirty different gear ratios to choose from and that good ol’ cushy seat mean while I’m riding I’m just traveling, getting where I’m going with a minimum of fuss. It’s not a bike commute, it’s simply a commute.

It’s the bike I ride to the store (usually the bike store).

When I got on the Fezzari I discovered a new sort of bicycling. The bike is small, and twitchy, and fast. I’m still learning to ride it, still getting used to the more aggressive seating posture (I’m very happy I asked them to set it up with a “relaxed” posture, adding a bit of height on the handlebars so I’m less hunched over.) My hands tend to go numb on long rides; I’m still searching for the right posture and grip to deal with that extra weight on my arms.

But there are times, many times, when all that is forgotten and I’m cranking along to the sound of my tires whooshing over the pavement and it’s sublime. I love that bike.

I think, in fact, I love it more because I still put in the miles on the Giant. I am constantly reminded just what makes the fancy road bike special. Without that contrast would I start to take my new bike for granted? (Actually, probably not, but it’s still a good reminder.) And what about my faithful pack mule? I love it more, too, for having ridden the Fezzari; I appreciate the comfort and the capacity and the simpleness of riding it. It’s the perfect tool for the job.

Special bonus: twice the time tinkering in the shade of the tree in our backyard.

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Gotta Ride, part 2

Since the previous episode, when I had my eyes on a fancy bike that was sold right out from under me, I did not stop lusting over fancy bikes. I pored over the bike shop’s listings so thoroughly that when I went in there a few days ago to check on my wheel progress (I am unbiked right now while I wait for a wheel) I recognized individual bikes in the inventory. “Oh, that’s that sweet demo model with the 58cm frame!” (Too big for me.)

Side note: while I was at the bike shop, a family was shopping for the kid’s first bike. A big moment! They were looking at a few models but none was perfect. “If we order the other color, how long?” Mom asked. “About a year,” the bike store guy replied. “September 2021. Bikes are hard to find these days.” Dang.

I saw a matte gray bike from their “high-performance pack mule” line. I had studied the range of gear ratios between the two drivetrains offered at the top of this line — the SRAM 1×12 and the Shimano 2×11 drivetrains. For the nerds: SRAM has a lower granny gear, Shimano has a taller top end and smaller steps between gears. But you know how to stop having problems with the front derailleur? Don’t have one. 1×12 is simpler and lighter. And more expensive.

In person, I was struck by just how dang graceful the offerings from Trek are these days. Those are some pretty bikes. And there they were, just one credit-card transaction away, as I learned that one of my wheels was still in transit, and the other wasn’t set up yet.

(Iso-speed, a voice whispered in my head. Trek technology that reduces vibration reaching the rider, thus improving endurance.)

I had walked to the store, I could have ridden home. I did not. I might have given in, but I had already found a new object of desire, one that demanded less in return. Today I did two things at the same time: I ordered a new bike and I became one of those people who rides way more bike than he has any business riding.

The bike comes from Fezzari, an outfit out of Utah, known mainly for mountain bikes. They pioneered a construction technique that, rather than make carbon-fiber elements and join them together, builds the frame all in one go. No joints. The version of the drivetrain I most wanted in the world comes at an enormous discount on this frame, compared to Trek, Specialized, Giant and the rest.

This frame-is-a-single-piece thing allegedly also reduces vibration and rider fatigue, along with blah blah blah bike stuff. And this frame has apparently passed some series of mountain bike strength tests. Most road bikes could not pass those tests, my new best friends at Fezzari assure me. While true roadies might not find this important, I sometimes fall over. A tough frame can be nothing but good. Especially if the frame weighs less than two pounds.

Aesthetically, where Trek is a dolphin, Fezarri is a stealth fighter, angular and aggressive. In the almost-inconceivable world where my bike frame aerodynamics make a difference, I might have to upgrade again. In that world, I’m a professional bicyclist and someone else is picking up the cost.

This bike will be a pretty good climbing bike. Were it not for the big belly I carry around, I would have a climbing physique. I’m kind of… itching to climb. (Not so keen on descents.) I’m already scouting hills in my neighborhood. While long climbs around here involve interaction with cars, there are some great sprint-climbs nearby with no traffic. When I get my wheel I’ll start measuring myself on them with my current bike. When the new bike arrives a few months from now, I’ll be ready for the polka-dot jersey.

Yeah, a few months. The wait time is 16-18 weeks. Not a lot of uncertainty, but a lot of waiting. It is NOT the instant gratification I set out looking for; it is not the get-me-riding-right-now fix that started me on this quest. But the new bike will provide a riding experience that I think will keep me over the wheels for years to come. Although I will have to adapt to riding a bike that has no kickstand. Weird.

But when it’s raining, or when I need to carry stuff, or when I need my head up in traffic, my faithful old Giant will be there. It’s a great bike, and shall always be loved. While the Fezzari will become my bicycle, the Giant will remain my car.

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